As I hop, skip, and jump my way through this vale of tears, I've had myself a number of unpleasant jobs.
Most certainly one of the more miserable occupations that I have occupied was the eighteen months I spent as one of the Assistant Assistant Managers at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel.
It was at the end of the nineteen-eighties, and at the time the Drake was a four star hotel on Union Square in San Francisco.
Often confused with the Saint Francis Hotel, which is just down the block, it is a classic and glamorous hotel.
In this environment, there was a General Manager who worked on site in the role of a Regional CEO. This person kept regular Monday through Friday business hours. Since a hotel never closes, unless and until it ceases to do business, there are Assistant Managers for all of the shifts, Day, Swing, and Graveyard. These employees all work a forty hour week on their respective shifts, however their days off are not synchronized with one another. In other words, they get two consecutive days off every week, but only one of them gets Saturday and Sunday, one gets Monday and Tuesday, while the third gets Thursday and Friday. Their schedules were in flux and regularly changed.
This is where my position came into play. The Assistant Assistant Manager covered the shifts of the Assistant Managers on their days off. This meant that my forty hour work week had Day, Swing, and Graveyard shifts all mixed up and in a constant flux, changing from one week to the next.
In retrospect all these years later, it seems like this would make an excellent interrogation technique for wearing ones enemies down in the war on terror. This could mean that on some days I got to work at seven o' clock in the morning and worked until three o' clock in the afternoon. My very next shift was scheduled to begin at eleven o' clock that very night and run until seven o' clock the following morning. Obviously this meant that I only had eight hours off until I had to return. I would check myself into a vacant room, so I could go to sleep, get up, put on my suit, and get back at it. A small side benefit was that food and drink were provided for with no strings attached. Needless to say, all of this was an exhausting grind, as every week had shifts that were only separated from one another by eight hours. In every possible configuration by the way.
As the "Manager" on duty, it was my responsibility to deal with every single unpleasant thing that the Union Employees were exempted from. The criterion defining "unpleasant things" were essentially left up to the Union Employees whims, and always had a human factor. Now I know the standard cliche' that has just likely popped into your mind, (that's what you got paid the big bucks for...) promptly followed by a whining sound. Wrong.
The Union wages and benefits in San Francisco are so greatly over inflated contractually, what with time and a half, and double time for working holidays, remember that hotels never close, that almost everyone was better compensated that the Assistant Assistant Managers. Never mind that most of the Union Employees also received tips, that put simply were under the table as far as taxes were concerned.
Once I was engaged in a friendly and genial conversation with a well heeled guest, who was far into his cups, and the Doorman on shift in his Beefeater suit. The guest took a liking to the Doorman, who was young, loquacious in his wit, and quite athletically handsome. A side non-union benefit of his job, due to his looks and charm, was that he was constantly getting laid by female guests, or at least he said so. He once told me that he would retire when he had made love to a woman in each and every one of the five hundred or so rooms. He was well on his way to accomplishing his goal, or so he said.
Our drunken guest was so charmed by our banter that he began to indulge himself in flattery. he affectionately placed his arm around the Doorman's/Beefeater's shoulders and told him that someday if he worked real hard, he would get a promotion and could be a Manager just like me. He pointed at me with his free arm while saying this, and slightly lost his balance, but was saved from disgrace by his other arm around the Doorman.
The Doorman and I both burst out in joyous laughter at this fanciful notion.
The guest misunderstanding our mirth as some sort of working class defeatism, repeated his whimsical idea with gravitas, as though this would convince us of its truth. Failing to stop our crack-up he looked simultaneously downtrodden and peeved.
The Doorman winked at me with one eye and looked straight into the eyes of the guest with the other, and spoke "Why on earth would I ever want to do that?!". He went on to explain that as a Doorman in a swanky hotel he had zero responsibilities beyond his simple duties, and that he was making in excess of one hundred and fifty thousand ($150,000.00) dollars per year, much of it in cash tips.
He didn't mention the free love, likely thinking it uncouth to speak of it to a total stranger. But he went on to say that his job was infinitely preferable to mine, in regards to both money and duties, as was his lot in life. I smilingly agreed, assuring the guest that every word the Doorman spoke was gospel truth, and that while he had to play dress up like a gin bottle five days a week, he was far better off for it. After all, he was driving a Jaguar XKE and I walked to and from work.
One cannot truly say that one has experienced penultimate customer service abuse until you've been "management" in a Union Run Swanky Hotel. A five hundred room hotel is like a small cosmopolitan city. People from all over the world are staying there at the same time. Everyday some of them depart and new ones arrive. These people present every problem, deviancy, and eccentricity that human beings are capable of engaging in, while simultaneously attracting other individuals who are not hotel guests, that consequently make things worse.
Now in a hotel like the Drake, only famous people, rich people, famous rich people, or middle class people with too many credit cards pretending to be famous rich people can stay there.
It doesn't matter. These people do every bad thing that poor people do, they simply do it with style, and it only takes one of them at a time to ruin your day or for that matter your week.
As the Assistant Assistant Manager, while on duty I was effectively the "Mayor" of this small expensive cosmopolitan town. How very appropriate that it was in San Francisco.
As a Greek, my temperament called for the governing style of Achilles, combined with the philosophy of Rudy Giuliani on a bad day. Suffice it to say that my idea of civics was forbidden.
I was required to be polite no matter how outrageous or rude a hotel guest might be. Likely you think I mean that guests are condescending and superior in their attitudes towards hotel staff, and you would be right, I do mean that too. But what I'm really getting at is all of the things that happen in a swanky hotel that would never ever occur to the average guest, because if they did, they might never check into a hotel in the first place. If you've ever worked in a Restaurant Kitchen, then you possess some idea of what I'm getting at, albeit in a very minor key. In a five hundred room hotel that has an occupancy rate of ninety percent or better, on any given day there are somewhere between five hundred and fifteen hundred registered guests. Add in the flotsam and jetsam attracted to this parade, and anything can and does happen.
Nefarious character's appear on the scene, such as professional hotel thieves, burglars, and pickpockets casing the premises in an extremely sophisticated fashion, leaving blubbering tourists in their wake. Once for several months, there were a rash of room burglaries without forced entry. Everyone involved was perplexed by this fiasco. When the culprit was finally apprehended by the house detectives and police, it turned out he was an extremely suave gentleman in his sixties. He had researched the corporation that owned the hotel at the time, and he had business cards printed naming himself as a high level executive. One day he visited the Housekeeping Department, presented his "credentials" from corporate and asked for a pass key in order to perform some room inspections, and Voila! a crime spree began.
Confidence men and women peddling their scams. Some of them conning guests, some of them guests themselves, attempting to con other guests , or hotel management.
High class prostitutes plying their wares is such a common occurrence as to not warrant a mention. You might as well mention that the Bell Boy moves the guests luggage around for tips.
But the Hot Prowl Hooker on the take is another matter entirely. Exotic creatures pretending to be Call Girls, hanging around in hotel lounges stalking their prey, businessmen on business trips.
The Police Department would send us pictures of these women and we were supposed to be on the lookout for them. I never understood how if they could take their photographs, why couldn't they arrest them? I'm not speaking of satellite photography here, these pictures could have been the first page in a 1960's Playboy pictorial. The one where she still has her clothes on. But what do I know about law enforcement?
After wooing an increasingly inebriated businessman in a hotel lounge or bar, they ask to go up to his room. Once ensconced in the suite, predator slips prey a Mickey into his final cocktail of the night.
When the fool passes out, he's mugged in his bed. Played, not laid. That's the name of the game.
Which brings us to the actual guests themselves. More than one of these dunces was sent my way by a Union Desk Clerk. They didn't care to hear it, so I had to. Invariably these men thought that they shouldn't have to pay their expensive hotel bill because they were robbed of all their money and credit cards while staying as a guest in the hotel. Never mind that it was their dim witted intention to surreptitiously cheat on their wives with a modelesque slattern gone wrong, that was at the crux of their lament. These people were wealthy, influential, and shameless. I had to be careful when making my decision regarding their pleas and demands.
The women were as bad as the men. One day while working a day shift, an attractive middle aged woman wearing a 1980's power suit with shoulder pads and pencil skirt waltzed into my shared office and threw a hardcore porno magazine onto my desk with a flourish befitting a lathered up martinet.
She exclaimed to me with appropriate dramatics that she had found this disgusting material in her room and that it was so upsetting to her ladylike sensibilities that all of her hotel charges should be comped. I looked her up in the computer and her room was a suite, and she had been there a full week with lots of room service, booze, and long distance telephone charges. She owed the hotel thousands of dollars and now she wanted everything for free because she had found a dirty magazine.
I told her that it wasn't hotel policy to leave hardcore pornography in guests rooms like it was an after dinner mint delicately placed upon their nightie-night pillow. The hotel didn't put it there, obviously she would have to pay her bill in full. She curtly said she didn't care about my lame excuses, she had found lurid erotic materials in her room, and therefore she should not, must not pay.
I asked her exactly where she found the magazine that was now lying face up on my desk. She told me that she had found it in one of the nightstands in between the telephone books. I told her that this proved my point, that the hotel did not place the magazine in her room, a previous guest did.
Housekeeping didn't remove it, because they didn't realize that it was there hiding between the telephone books as it were.
She became very angry with me and began turning the pages of the magazine to show me just how filthy it was, all the while exclaiming that if I didn't comp her, she would tell everyone she knows what a horrible hotel the Sir Francis Drake is! Once she started turning the pages I knew she was a liar and that her ladylike sensibilities were more likely to have starred in such a publication than to have been mortified by it.
I had to get rid of her. So I offered her one free night. Again she demanded all of it. I told her no.
Right about then I knew I was made. If I comped her everything, the General Manager would murder me. If I didn't comp her and she went on to make trouble, the General Manager would hire a hit man to murder me. I found myself totally screwed, just like the girl on the cover of the magazine she had thrown onto my desk minutes before.
I told her again that it was one night comped or nothing at all. Take it or leave it. She demanded to speak with my superiors, I told her that the General Manager was at lunch. He was actually with his secretary in a vacant suite and was not to be disturbed during such dalliances. I told her she could wait for his return in the lobby and I would have her paged upon his arrival. She agreed.
When he returned I briefed him on the ordeal and then he saw her. When she came out of his office twenty or so minutes later, she had been comped everything, including the remainder of her stay.
He even sent flowers to her suite and I was in very deep trouble because I had failed to shield him.
She gave me a look that said "I know that you know I'm a Confidence Artist, but I won and you just lost". I imagined her getting ready for her next mark, on her next important business trip, perusing her collection of hardcore pornography, looking for the next appropriate specimen to swindle with.
Then there are the mundane guests with their so very ordinary, tiresome, and lame antics. The man who complains about his pork chop, the drunk and disorderly barfly, men in fistfights, women in cat fights, domestic violence that you have to get in the middle of with the house detectives, vandalism of hotel property, weasels demanding upgrades, the all around complainers who begin their diatribes at the moment of check-in, the stoned school teacher attending a convention who decides to take off his clothes and dance naked in the Starlight Roof Lounge.
Oh, and Death.
That's right. I forgot to mention that Death is a regular hotel guest. Or as they joke in the business, "They check in to check out". In the eighteen months that I worked at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, there were a total of seven deaths. Three of these were of natural causes of the dead in bed variety.
The other four were suicides. One gunshot, one overdose, two jumpers.
Suicide in hotels is commonplace likely because people don't want their family to find them. But it is fine to terrorize and scar total strangers. I learned to know that when I saw a hysterical Filipina Maid running down a hallway, crying and screaming in Tagalog interjected with "Blessy Jesus" every other sentence, while making the Sign of the Cross, that this meant I had a stiff on my hands.
One day I was working the Day Shift from seven until three, and it was a very nice day in San Francisco, so I went for a walk at lunchtime. On my way back from my stroll, I passed the aforementioned Doorman who was chatting with the Head Bellman right outside the front doors on Powell Street, I waved hello to both of them, went through the doors and was beginning to ascend the marble steps to the Lobby when I heard a most peculiar loud sound.
A noise I had never heard before, a noise that I wouldn't hear again until I saw videos of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I turned around to see what made the noise and I saw her lying in the gutter and on the sidewalk. A jumper at noontime. She was a gory mess that I won't go into here, and because I was the "Manager" on duty she was my problem. Women on the street started screaming, a man vomited. The Head Bellman ran inside to Housekeeping, got a blanket, and covered her. I went back inside to my office, alerted the House Detectives and called the Police.
Hours later I was still at work dealing with the Police and the Coroners Office. I couldn't go home when my shift ended because I was a witness and the "Manager" on duty when the suicide happened. Likewise, the Doorman and the Head Bellman had to stay. They told me that they both had first noticed her when she was approximately thirty feet above the ground.
The House Detectives found her purse in the Starlight Room on the twenty-first floor. Inside her purse they found her suicide letter. They determined that she had hidden in the Starlight Room during closing time, and later made her way to the roof from there, where she had lingered until jumping at lunchtime. The House Detectives and I had to write up reports for the Police, and also internally for the corporation that owned the hotel at the time. While performing this function I saw and read her suicide note.
I had passed from stunned sorrow to rage. That a person could be so callous and narcissistic to subject numerous total strangers to such a frightful experience really teed me off. I kept a copy of her suicide note and used it later for "art therapy". I used it as the reference material for an illustrated poem titled "Deatho-Knocko". I changed the names to protect the innocent, but the subject matter in the poem is the subject matter in the note.
All of this has been a rather long winded way to get around to posting this short story. It was initially rejected by Robert and Aline Crumb when submitted to WEIRDO. It was also rejected by HEAVY METAL and METAL HURLANT as I recall. Years later it was published by Fantagraphics in their anthology PICTOPIA.
For years I've thought that I should write and illustrate a "graphic novel" about working in a hotel. But I never do it. I wrote and drew "Deatho-Knocko" right after the girl jumped, while I was still working at the hotel. By this time I had really had a gut full of the Drake, and of San Francisco too.
I had been there a decade. At the time I was living on the top floor of a three flat. The fellow who lived on the second floor was a clarinetist of the free jazz persuasion. Kind of like a cross between Captain Beefheart and Ornette Coleman. In other words, he made a lot of noise.
I would come home from Graveyard Shifts desperately in need of sleep and he would begin to practice. I couldn't complain, because he was within his rights due to it being the daytime. I was the freak, not him. All of the other neighbors were at work. Greek Dracula would not slumber, instead listening to the repetitious rehearsals of the sounds of the terrified bleating of a pygmy goat forced to make the choice between a Mountain Lion or a steep cliff.
One evening he came upstairs to visit me out of his mind on LSD lamenting that his beautiful French girlfriend had cuckolded him. I had seen her a few times, she was definitely beautiful and likely worth a lament or two. He threw open my large kitchen window, scrambled up onto the ledge, climbed outside onto the exterior wooden ledge that had a bad case of termites or carpenter ants, and threatened to jump. It was three floors straight down to metal trash cans and concrete.
I thought about giving him a shove. Instead I grabbed both of his legs in a bear hug and talked him back into the kitchen. It was definitely time to leave San Francisco. The words of my favorite anthem by Blue Oyster Cult were ringing all too true. No, I don't mean "Godzilla" but I confess to liking that one too. I mean the one with the chorus that goes like this...
A one, a two, a buckle my shoe:
This ain't the Garden of Eden
There ain't no angels above
And things ain't like they used to be
And this ain't the Summer, No this ain't the Summer
This ain't the Summer of Love